We take sausage making pretty seriously at our place. This year we made our annual Christmas sausage, Mexican style chorizo, bangers, and a bunch of breakfast sausage. Some tips we have taken to heart follow.
Keep it cold
There is no understating this. Grinding will heat up the meat and fat, stuffing will too. We turn off the heater and grind when the meat has a few ice crystals in it. Fat too but it will just be really firm and not icy. Keeping it cold will mean the difference between a sausage with a mealy texture when cooked vs. a firm sausage with texture. Even emulsified sausages (like bockwurst or bologna) follow this rule. A great way to know you are doing it right is that when holding or blending the mix in your hand it should feel uncomfortably cold.
Fat to Meat
Meat to fat ratios are important. I try and mix the ratio as I grind to limit the amount of hands in bowl time and smushery which starts breaking down the fat. Still you’ll have to mix it, and while you could use a paddle mixer I find that using my hands lets me keep track of how cold it is and helps me look for the right texture. Part way to the completed blend (see below) the color will look right and you need to get your spices mixed in. Too much fat and the sausages are greasy. Not enough and they are dry.
Strands Mean Stop
This is the tricky part. Blending until things are really fusing makes sausage sausagey. If you have ground it you want it wrapped around the meat and infused in it. Small stringy strands will appear when you pull it apart. There are times when free large chunks of fat are great, but usually this is back fat and you haven’t ground it so that it shows up. Salamis often have some large bits mixed in.
There is a reason we like to do this in November or December. This year it was too warm outdoors to use coolers on our deck, so make sure there is lots of room in the fridge or freezer. When in doubt chill it.
Testing… 1, 2, 3…
Before we stuff the casings we always fry off a little of each batch to make sure the meat to fat ratio and seasonings are just right. This provides you with the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments and it makes for good snacking.
It Takes Two to Tango
You can stuff the sausages on your lonesome, but it is so much easier doing it with someone else. Managing the crank and having someone without meat and fat smeared on their hands is always a lifesaver. Besides, with an audience you can crack off color jokes as the links come out. Doing that by yourself is awkward.
Save Room at the End
Casings are slippery and I have yet to trust a knot at the end. Trying to tie a knot with an inch of casing to spare and fat covered fingers chilled to the bone is an exercise in futility. Casings are cheap.
Prick it, Prick it Good
After links are all done prick them. Liberally. Both sides. Air inside a sausage will make the casing nasty and brittle when cooked. If you keep it cold enough you won’t have any leakers. These little holes seem to seal themselves up when things are done so don’t worry about fat squirting out of your creations when cooking them. You can use a pin or corn cob holder, but this little tool makes things much easier.
Pellicule or Pellicle
Let those doggies rest a bit. Hanging them outside if it isn’t freezing but is in the high 30’s is perfect. In a fridge you’ll need to rotate them a bit. There are two things happening but the outcome is the same. Firstly your spice blend has a chance to permeate the meat. If you have used oats or rusk like we do in bangers it gives it a chance to soak in. Secondly the links will develop a tacky, not exactly dry, surface. This is a film forming that reseals the whole thing. When I first started making sausages I ignored this step and always had links that leaked in the pan and the flavors were still not blended as well as I liked. Pellicule by the way is old French, and since the guy that introduced me to this was a Jane Grigson fan I use his pronunciation. Plus it is fun to say. Pellicule, pellicule, pellicule!
Hopefully you have a dog or chickens to handle the messy bits left in your grinder and stuffer. We cannot overstate this – wipe everything down with paper towels before washing. The fat left over is wasted going down the sink and the ensuing plumber bill will swear you off sausage forever!
I’ll go out on a limb here and tell you how we do it. I’m sure everyone has a particular way but we follow these rules explicitly. On a medium flame we add the sausages and a couple of tablespoons or so of water (don’t go over 1/4 cup) and cover. We usually give them one turn then pull off the cover and let the liquid cook off. Lower the heat and brown to your liking. No pricking. No forking. Those little guys will squirt all over and you’ll end up with a dry package. Bangers are especially susceptible – that’s why they call them bangers. They will pop in a pan if not treated with a little respect, and if that happens you will have to clean up the mess and not us.
Someday I hope to make the perfect meatless sausage for my vegetarian friends. I feel so sad for them missing out on the tastiest thing we put on our plates.